How to build a winning startup culture from day one





Creating the right company culture from the outset will give your startup more chance of success in the UAE.

Happy employees are 12% more productive than the average worker, so it pays to have a strong company culture from the start.

A winning culture will also help you attract talent and drive profits. Get it right and employees will be clamouring to work for you and customers will want to buy into your culture.

To create a ‘happy’ and successful startup from the outset, be ready to:

  • Define your company values
  • Hire people who fit
  • Communicate your culture
  • Show appreciation
  • Evolve your culture as you grow

Define your company values

What do the world’s top startups have in common? They’ve mastered the art of company culture.

And it all starts with defining values.

Establishing core values and making sure your team upholds them from the word ‘go’ will help you grow your company the way you want. It will also provide the platform to build a great team.

Be personal. Base your values around what you genuinely believe in. Don’t try to copy the values of other successful startups, whether it’s Twitter or Airbnb. While these companies may appear to have similar cultures to yours, the core values of the founders may be quite different.

Only you will know what values you want your company to stand for. Sit down with co-founders, directors or partners and write these values down.

Build your values into your strategy and make sure everyone involved in the startup upholds these from the outset. Typical themes to consider include transparency, flexibility, inclusivity and staff empowerment (as opposed to micro-managing).

Decide how you want to get things done in terms of structure and hierarchy. This includes anything from company policies to division of responsibilities, performance measurement, team building and incentives. Being clear and accountable at the beginning will build confidence in your startup.

Hire people who fit

Company culture boils down to people, and the actions they take. So it is critical that the people you hire understand, and follow, your company values.

To avoid recruiting mistakes, develop specific hiring guidelines based on your core values. This will allow you to build a team with shared common goals, enabling people to work together successfully.

Having a strong company culture, or at least the values upon which to build that culture, will help you attract the most talented individuals.

Be clear about your values and the culture you are developing when you interview candidates. Check their understanding of your values and what they believe them to mean. This will help you decide which candidates are the best fit.

Communicate your culture

Once you have a great team in place, you’ll want to keep them. At Airbnb, employees are kept in the loop on major company happenings and big decisions. It sounds obvious but it’s surprising how few companies actually do this.

Keeping employees informed gives them a sense of ownership and purpose in the company.  This helps drive engagement.

Good communication isn’t just about management. It’s about all levels of a business, as well as customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

DHL was winner of the best place to work in the UAE several years in a row and has developed a culture of openness and flexible working. The company also provides access to continuous learning and development programmes.

By winning the award, the company has shown that it has developed a culture it can be proud of and is intent on communicating that culture to attract and retain talent.

Show appreciation

How will you show your appreciation when someone’s done a great job? One way is to get out your phone and ‘Hi5’ them. It’s like a real ‘high five’ for the digital age.

Hi5 is one of a new wave of tech companies offering novel ways to foster company culture. The idea is to give people ‘enabler tools’ so they feel more engaged. This will enhance performance.

As well as showing appreciation, users can view and anonymously rate individuals. Managers can track the progress of employees, and monitor goals and values across the company via a dashboard.

Of course, you don’t need to invest in technology to show appreciation. But it certainly can help – especially if you aim to build a tech savvy workforce. It can also be a quick way to embed a fun and inclusive working environment.

A more traditional way to show appreciation is to offer perks. But be creative: think about what would really make a difference to individual and team morale – whether that’s free breakfasts, exercise classes, flexible vacations, or guest lecturers.

Evolve your culture as you grow

Company culture should be constantly nurtured to reflect the direction you and your managers want to take.

You will almost certainly want to maintain certain core values, but there are bound to be changes to the direction you want to go in once the company is up and running.

Review your company culture on a regular basis. Evaluate how effective it is and how effective your team is in upholding it. Does the culture need to be tweaked to reflect a change of direction? Are you satisfied that all your employees uphold your values?

Consider an annual review of your company culture and encourage all staff to participate. If the review reveals your culture isn’t as strong as it should be, act quickly to address the problem.

For example, is the issue poor direction and communication or is there an employee who doesn’t provide the right fit? A negative individual can soon influence other members of a team and drive down engagement, and may need to be fired – however difficult that may be.

Evolving your company culture will allow you to develop your core values and ensure your team upholds these values as the company grows.

Make culture a priority

Creating a great company culture doesn’t happen overnight but you need to be clear about your values from day one. Once you’ve defined them, make sure everyone upholds them. That includes you. And of course, be prepared to tweak them.

The most successful businesses constantly evolve and change direction, and their company cultures evolve too. But whatever happens, that culture always remains at the core of the business.

Mike Cook, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, CREATIVE ZONE

Mike oversees the strategic market planning and penetration at CREATIVE ZONE. Responsible for the development and implementation of our marketing programmes, he brings to the role over 20 years of experience working and living in the Middle East. Having previously worked for several Fortune 500 companies, Mike is driven by challenge and has seen success delivering unique marketing projects and driving growth in every role he has held. Mike graduated with a BSc degree in Product Design and Marketing from the University of Sunderland in 2000 and has attended several Strategic Leadership programmes, more recently at Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts.


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